Markova: The 'Comfort Gay'
World War II in the
Pacific ended 60 years ago with the infamous bombing of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki. In the Philippines, the end of the war was hardly observed even
if only to reflect upon the atrocities committed at that time with the
Filipinos as the principal victims. A hidden chapter of those dark times
is the story of “comfort gays.”
BY AUBREY SC MAKILAN
The Japanese occupation 60 years ago
was a difficult time for the Philippines. For over three years and until
the day Japan surrendered to the USAFFE (or U.S. Armed Forces in the Far
East), the Filipinos suffered grievously under the Japanese Imperial Army.
Among these Filipinos was Lola Rosa
who, together with other aging “comfort women,” in the 1990s related the
horrors of being forced into prostitution by Japanese soldiers. As their
stories were being documented by women groups, human rights activists and
journalists including TV anchor Loren Legarda, one soul found the courage
to come out of the closet and share his own nightmare.
In an interview for a college paper
with this writer in 2000, Walter Dempster Jr., a.k.a. “Walterina Markova”
- a Filipino-Jamaican gay - said he was forced to become a sex slave by
the Japanese army during World War II, at a time when homosexuality was
then considered a cardinal sin and social taboo. Markova’s story had also
apparently lured Legarda to the Home of the Golden Gays in Pasay City
supposedly to interview a former comfort woman in the 1990s. At first
disappointed that Markova was actually a gay, she nonetheless agreed to
record his story.
Photo by Aubrey Makilan
in the 1930s in Manila, Markova’s young life was already shaped by
brutality. As a child, he told this writer,
he was constantly bullied and abused by his older brother, Robert. His
first taste of freedom was when Robert died. Markova later joined a
barkada (group) of six cross-dressers who made a living as stage
performers. He and his gay friends were into cross-dressing without
anybody noticing their true gender.
In the early 1940s, Markova said, the
Japanese soldiers’ presence in the country did not at first bother him. In
fact, the soldiers only laughed when they saw his group looting a grocery
store somewhere in Harrison. But he was almost arrested in a raid by
Japanese soldiers who were looking for Americans. His American stepfather
was with him when the soldiers came and so they took him to a garrison at
the University of Sto. Tomas.
After a while, Markova said the
Japanese soldiers became brutal. “They were like kings in the land they do
not own,” he said. The soldiers started confiscating rice, vegetables, and
other supplies to store in their barracks. Forced labor was also imposed
by then, he recalled.
Violence was an ordinary scene at
Japanese sentry points. Markova narrated how they were ordered to get off
the vehicle to salute them. Failing to execute the right salute – bowing
the head to hip-level with the hands atop the thighs - they would be
beaten up. “‘Pag hindi maganda ang saludo mo sasampalin ka…bibigyan ka
ng mag-asawang sampal” (If the salute was not executed well, the
soldiers would slap you on both sides of your face), he said holding his
One day, Japanese soldiers were
chasing gays after being tipped off by an informer that a gay, in revenge
for his parents’ death, killed a Japanese. A gay friend was arrested and
was tied at the gate of San Beda College where passing Japanese soldiers
beat him up and burned his skin with cigarettes. He was set free only
after another gay suspect, believed to be the Japanese killer, was
Markova said the suspect was then
brought to Fort Santiago, where his arms were hanged with burning woods
placed under his feet. His toe nails were all apparently pulled out during
Historical accounts show that some
80,000 to 200,000 women were forcibly enlisted to service Japanese troops
at "comfort stations" throughout the Pacific during World War II.
In those days, Filipino women were not
safe even with the company of men. Actually, Markova said, women were
raped anytime, anywhere, even in front of their male companions. “Nanghahatak
na lang sila ng mga kababaihan saan man nila gustong gawin ang kanilang
kahayupan” (They would force women to go with them and assault them
sexually anywhere), said Markova.
At the age of 18 – the age for women
adolescence - Markova, together with his gay friends, were not spared from
Markova’s barkada was at first
mistaken for women by Japanese soldiers when they were taken to the
Japanese officials’ rooms at the Manila Hotel. Aside from beating them up
using guns as punishment for their "deception," all drag queen performers
were ordered arrested. The gays were brought to a camp – known today as
the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex - where they became comfort drag queens,
repeatedly raped far more brutally than comfort women.
“Buti sana kung isang beses lang ginawa
sa amin ‘yon, eh hindi. Para
bang galit na galit sila na…’mga bakla ito, hindi ito mga tunay na babae.’
Lahat ng klaseng kababuyan ginawa sa amin. ‘Di ka naman makapagsabi ng ‘huwag,’
e bayoneta ang kaharap mo”
(They did it not only once but several times. They were even angered by
the fact that we were gays and not women. They did all vicious things on
us and we could not protect ourselves because their bayonets were aimed at
us), he recalled.
For years, the barkada would be
brought to various Japanese camps to offer their “service” to the
soldiers. During those days, Markova revealed that they only had a set of
clothes. They would only wear rice sacks, he said, while washing their
The barkada were also made to
do forced labor. Every morning, they would shine the combat shoes and wash
the uniforms of the soldiers, then clean their barracks. They were also
made to mow the grass in front of the Manila City Hall.
Despite all the “service” and other
work they did, he said, they were often fed only with lugaw (rice
porridge). It was already a feast for them if they were given sisid
rice – rice from the sea which needed frying because of foul smell – with
ginataang ubod ng saging (banana stalk cooked with coconut
milk) and mongo beans.
Under Japanese custody, Markova saw
the soldiers raiding communities almost everyday. Persons arrested would
have their hands tied and then killed. “D’yan sa may Remedios Church,
ang daming pareng Amerikanong pinatay d’yan” (At the Remedios Church
[in Baclaran], many American priests were killed), he added.
horrified Markova was the killing of infants.
“Pati ang mga sanggol!” Markova said shaking his
head in terror, “ihahagis nila nang pataas bago sasaluhin ng bayoneta.”
(Babies were tossed up in mid-air and their bodies pierced by bayonets as
they came down.)
Because of these horrible incidents,
Markova treated each day as if it was his last. But even so, he had not
forgotten his dream to be free again.
He had a chance to dash for freedom
about a year before U.S. troops came back. He and some friends were aboard
a military truck in a trip to another Japanese garrison. The truck had a
mechanical trouble forcing the Japanese soldiers to get off to check. At
that instance, Markova and his friends made their escape. The soldiers
gave a chase toward a grassy field, now Edsa highway, but it was too late.
One day during the “liberation,”
Markova saw a captured Japanese soldier tied to the back of a jeep. In an
act of revenge, he said, he hit the soldier with an umbrella. Then he took
out a safety pin and repeatedly pricked the prisoner.
“You don’t know what the Japanese did
to us…they tortured us,” he told the soldier’s American captors when they
tried to intervene.
“Pero nahampas ko na ‘yung Hapon…kung
saan ko hampasin, sa likod, sa braso, sa ulo, sa mukha, para makaganti ako
sa galit ko sa ginawa sa amin.” (I slapped the
Japanese then struck his arms, his head and face to avenge what they did
Markova learned later that his two
other gay friends were killed in a raid just before the end of the
Japanese occupation, eventually leaving him alone to share this story.
Years after the end of the war, he
found himself retiring from cross-dressing and worked as a make-up artist
for the film industry. In the film industry, he also found that macho
actors having gay lovers and some were into a relationship.
At night, he would stay at the Home
for the Golden Gays in Pasay City – where other older gays who have been
victims of society’s discrimination also took refuge.
He also became part-time trainer for
young Filipinas to work as exotic dancers in Japan.
His story already publicized in print
and broadcast, Markova never thought the same story would merit a film.
Much more portray his life by no less than the film industry’s comedy
2000, the film, “Markova: Comfort Gay,” brought to light a long-hidden
chapter in gay history. It may have focused
on the story of one man, but its scope is truly wide-ranging. It recounted
the story of a nation’s struggle for self-determination and its own
internal battles involving intolerance, conformity and expectation. The
film documented the ultraconservatism of the 1930s, the horrors of the
occupation, the travails of the Marcos years and the long struggle toward
The 97-minute film was included in the
2002 Seattle Lesbian and Gay Film Festival and 26th San
Francisco International Lesbian and Gay Film Festival.
Markova was thankful that the movie
about his life was watched by many people. Asked whether he intended to
claim indemnification from the Japanese government for the acts of
atrocities committed against him and other gays, Markova said there is no
“Sa aming anim, ako lang ang
nabuhay…humingi man ako ng claim sa mga Hapon, paniniwalaan ba ako?”
(Among the six of us gay people, I was the only survivor…Even if I filed
for a claim, who would believe me?), he told this reporter five years ago.
Last June 24, Markova, old and frail
at 83, was hit by a racing cyclist in. He never survived.
A fellow gay who also lives at the
Home for the Golden Gays, says of Markova: “Hanga kami sa kanya dahil
kahit alam naman n’ya kung paano tignan ang mga bakla dito sa atin, may
lakas pa rin syang ikwento ang karanasan n’ya”(We admire him for
telling his story and for his conviction on how to treat gay people).
“Tayo namang tao ay hindi talaga
magtatagal. Kaya ako lumabas ay para magbigay inspirasyon lalo na sa mga
baklang hanggang ngayon ay inaalipusta pa rin,”
Markova told this writer then. “Dahil dito, naniniwala ako na hindi
lang ang sarili ko ang napalaya ko mula sa ganitong pagtingin.” (As
humans, we won’t live long. Revealing my own story is my way of inspiring
other gays who continue to be oppressed today. By my act, I may have
probably given freedom to many other gay people.) Bulatlat
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© 2004 Bulatlat
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